Creativity, originality, excellence, positive attitude, and passion are some of the attributes that stand out in the award-winning dancer, choreographer and teacher Željko Božić. Born in Slovenia, Božić has inspired the world with his recent internet sensation “Letter”.
He is known for his memorable pieces he choreographed for Slovenian Eurosong and Popstar edition show, as well as several TV Show performances. The International Dance Organization (IDO) awarded him with the Hall of Fame award for outstanding choreography achievements.
In the following interview Željko Božić talks about how the project “Letter” came about, his life philosophy, the work with his team from Kazina and his new upcoming projects. This is Božić’s success story who managed to convert his passion into a famous career.
NY Elite Interview with Top Dancer and Choreographer Željko Božić
NY Elite: What school of thought/dance movement do you identify with?
Željko Božić: I think that what we do has influence on others. And since I’m in constant contact with people – as a dance teacher especially with younger ones – I’d like to leave some positive effect so they can go on and pass that effect on others and so on and so on.
So I keep improving as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and as a human being and through dancing share good energy and knowledge to people around me.
NY Elite: What do you like about what you do?
Željko Božić: What I like the best is, that there is no routine – one day you are sweating in dance studio, other you take part in competition, than you performing in commercial or for the president. Than you go on and perform and choreograph for theatre or you choreograph video spoof of president Putin (it’s on my YT channel … it’s really funny), than one day you are on the stage of Eurovision song contest dancing in front of thousands of people, and the next day you teaching fifteen little kids who still have difficulties in telling apart left from right.
That versatility brings a lot of new challenges but it’s exactly that that helps me growing.
NY Elite: What opportunity/event opened the door to your career?
Željko Božić: There were probably a lot of different opportunities and each opened another door for me. But there is one a bit more significant. Back in early 2000 there weren’t a lot of groups mixing dancing and storytelling and since I really like some kind of narrative in dance piece I’ve created a 4 minutes version of Jerry Springer Show – it had everything … guests and their bizarre problems, all main characters. I also wrote rap lyrics for all protagonists to complement the story. Today this sounds like nothing special but at that time this was really something new. I still have some people who whenever we meet still remember that piece.
NY Elite: Tells us about some of your solo performances?
Željko Božić: One that is really dear to me is from the theatre piece “Dream Job”. In it I cope with my biggest fears, I deal with my biggest critics – including myself. People say it’s very intense. It’s really demanding but also works as the catalyst for me.
NY Elite: What influences your style and creativity?
Željko Božić: Style-wise I have to be adoptable to the needs of certain project but I really like to be smooth and expressive. And for creativity, when I’m facing challenges, I often just listen to people, who are more experienced or amazing in another field. I often talk to my partner Ena Kurtalić, an actress, and her knowledge often helps me to find solutions. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open, and latter reflect.
That’s how video “Letter” was born. Two years ago I wrote this text. I couldn’t sleep and around 4 in the morning these words started to appear in my mind. It was strange because English is not my first language. I always wanted to do something with it and this year I found a way how. I made choreography to words and together with my team we performed it and taped it. Till this day video got shared more than 9000 times on Facebook and really touched a lot of people from all over the world.
It is about dancing, but it’s about life too. It has to do with self esteem and self worth. A lot of people face these insecurities daily but don’t speak about them since they are often considered as a weakness. I just wanted to say that I too deal with this doubts and that we are in this together.
NY Elite: Have you studies other styles of dance?
Željko Božić: I did Latin-American and ballroom dances for eight years, jazz ballet and show dance for six. I guess I was involved in wherever there was a shortage of men. I remember schoolmates looking me funny when I said I practice dancing, but everything changed on the first school dance. When they saw that girls like me for that they changed their views.
NY Elite: Describe your dance style.
Željko Božić: I was around 16 when I was introduced to hip hop music and I fell in love. I started to learn some steps and it became my passion. But since I also did other styles, I would say that my style is often a mixture of everything.
NY Elite: What causes/charities do you support and why?
Željko Božić: I admit that I could be more active on that field. I give donations for homeless, save houses and clown doctors, but I would like to be more involved in the future.
NY Elite: Do you also choreograph/teach? Tell us a little bit more about any dance academy you are involved in.
Željko Božić: I started to dance in Kazina – dance school with really good pedigree in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana. After 7 years I was offered to become teacher there. At first I wasn’t really good at it. I got results but I think my approach to people wasn’t I really right. I’m still in Kazina and now I just love teaching – I enjoy working with children because they are fearless when it comes to dancing. I motivate young dancers full of doubts to achieve their true potential. And I experiment and create with mature dancers and live for those rare moments, when magic happens.
Last few years I was also often invited to judge competitions and I’m specially connected with DanceStar organization and their great events.
Because of the teaching and judging I also travel a lot and meeting new people definitely made me richer as a human being.
NY Elite: Who are some of the people that you have worked with in your projects?
Željko Božić: Besides my team from Kazina, which always supports me immensely, I will point out Marko Brdnik, since our cooperation happened recently working on theatre piece “Dream Job”. Marko has made all the music for the piece and he is also exceptional accordionist. I’ve never had this opportunity before so it was amazing for me. He was also one of the characters and even danced in one of the scenes.
NY Elite: How does every performance make you feel?
Željko Božić: It’s like in life, sometimes I feel amazing, the other times I feel drained and empty. The funny thing is that feeling and reality sometimes vary. I can have the best feeling ever but latter see the video and realize that it wasn’t really my best performance. Or I can sit in a dressing room, feeling totally numb after performance, and latter read feedback and I can’t believe my eyes how positive they are.
NY Elite: Tell us about your training routine.
Željko Božić: There are many aspects to it. As a dancer there is of course physical training – coordination, proprioception, strength, agility, stretching. Then there is a technique practice – hip hop, locking, popping, house dance. And there is choreography training – trying to find the way not to get repetitive, trying to really capture the essence of the theme or song you choreograph to, experimenting with different approaches. I’m also trying to go to the theatre as much as possible.
NY Elite: Do you try to push yourself in new directions with each new piece?
Željko Božić: I think I do, maybe sometimes even too obsessively. I can be pretty demanding on myself. But still I think we all have something unique about us and in what we do and it can be recognized in every project.
NY Elite: How has your dance style and dance philosophy changed over the years?
Željko Božić: When I started I was around 13 and I remember I was totally unaware of myself, my body. When I was 18 I became very competitive and that phase was really long. Now I’m more into other aspects of dancing, experimenting, discovering new ways of telling stories with my movement and really trying not to forget to have fun and to enjoy it more.
NY Elite: What are your goals/dreams for the future?
Željko Božić: I would really like to take my theatre piece “Dream Job” out of Slovenia and share it with audience all over the world. So if there are any cultural managers reading this, please contact us. I promise you will not be disappointed.
It’s based on motifs from different stories that I found in the book “Can I Tell You a Story” from Jorge Bucay, who is one of the world’s most well known psychotherapist and author in general.
It follows five workers in warehouse. Through their manipulation of the boxes each shows different approach to life – they are portraying their dreams and lost hopes, enthusiasm and fears, expectations of the society and individual goals.
Story takes the audience on emotional journey, but it is full of humor too.
NY Elite: What legacy do you want to leave behind? What do you want to be remembered for?
Željko Božić: I covered that theme in my video “Laying the Tracks” (you can see it on my YT channel). I think my role is to lay tracks for future generations. There are at least 20 former students of mine who are now professional dancers. And even if people stop dancing they take something they learned in dance studios and use it life – how to be disciplined, how to manage time, how to respect your team mate and your opponent, how to be social, how to listen to music, how to be creative, what can I really achieve if I put all my efforts into it. I’m really happy that from the feedback I’m getting I can say that I still inspire people.